Cambodia seizes 1 ton of ketamine

Civil society groups say corruption is propping up the drug trade in the country.
By RFA Khmer
Cambodia seizes 1 ton of ketamine Nearly 1 ton of ketamine was seized in this warehouse in Preah Sihanouk province, Cambodia, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022.
Handout photo

Cambodian authorities in the resort town of Sihanoukville seized nearly 1 ton of ketamine over the weekend in the latest high-profile drug bust in this country, prompting calls from civil society groups for more transparency and stricter enforcement of measures used to target drug crimes.

The Sunday afternoon raid by a joint force of gendarmes and police on a rented warehouse yielded 34 large containers of the powerful anesthetic known recreationally as “Special K,” National Authority for Combating Drugs Secretary General Meas Vyrith told RFA Khmer.

The seized ketamine, which can put users into a mildly hallucinatory state, is currently being held in a secure location in Sihanoukville, he said, adding that authorities believe it had been illegally smuggled into Cambodia for sale.

“Efforts are underway to locate those who are responsible for the drugs,” he said. “The criminals took advantage of a loophole when the relevant authorities took shifts in carrying out their duties and also employed different tactics to carry out their illegal activities.”

The bust follows several other large seizures this year in Cambodia, which is becoming a transit and production point for illicit drugs in the region.

Authorities shut down a processing site and seized 40.5 kilograms (89 pounds) of ketamine in May, and in July, they seized 1.8 tons of ketamine and nearly 300 tons of chemicals after raiding a processing site and six storage facilities. In August, authorities seized an additional 871 kilograms of ketamine throughout the country.

According to the NACD, authorities in Cambodia arrested more than 30,000 suspects in 10,461 drug-related cases in 2020 and 6,308 cases in 2021.

Meas Vyrith told RFA that the amount of drugs seized by authorities in Cambodia so far in 2022 had increased by more than half of the total seized in all of 2021.

The latest bust also follows an announcement by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in August which said that ketamine seizures had increased sharply in Cambodia from 112.5 kilograms in 2020 to 2.8 tons in 2021 – accounting for more than 50% of all ketamine seized in Southeast Asia (5.4 tons) that year. 

UNODC said that the increase was associated with growing evidence of illicit manufacture of the drug in Cambodia, based on the detection of several clandestine ketamine laboratories in the country.

Authorities dismantle a large-scale clandestine ketamine laboratory in Cambodia, Dec. 2021 Credit: NACD of Cambodia
Authorities dismantle a large-scale clandestine ketamine laboratory in Cambodia, Dec. 2021 Credit: NACD of Cambodia
Call for stronger oversight

Speaking to RFA on Monday, civil society groups urged the government to take stronger action against traffickers of ketamine and other illicit drugs to prevent Cambodia from becoming a haven for the drug trade in Southeast Asia.

Cheap Sotheary, the coordinator for human rights group ADHOC in Sihanouk province, said that the authorities need to be more transparent and forthcoming about information related to drug seizures. She said that drug trafficking remains a problem in Cambodia due to corruption.

“We are requesting that the information and photos of criminals be made public because we worry that local authorities may be complicit and allow them to get away,” she said.

“We also have no information about the places where [authorities] keep the seized illicit drugs. We’re talking about hundreds of tons of these drugs. What would happen if the people who look after the confiscated drugs steal them and sell them themselves? It’s very dangerous without proper oversight.”

Other groups have said that the rise of drug trafficking in Cambodia shows that criminals are not afraid to set up manufacturing operations in the country.

Ketamine is widely used in human and veterinary medicine and, while the drug is not under international control, its non-medical use has been related to a number of severe adverse health effects.

According to UNODC, high doses of ketamine used recreationally can cause cardiovascular and respiratory toxicity effects, as well as other adverse effects like bladder problems, anxiety, panic attacks, palpitations, tachycardia, chest pains, depression, aggravated symptoms of existing mental health issues, slurred speech and inability to speak.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum.


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